Watch Them Thrive: The Case for Developmental Screening

A new initiative Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive!, was launched recently by the U.S. Departments of Health & Human Services and Education to promote healthy child development and universal developmental screening for children.  You might be thinking to yourself, “Haven’t we heard this before? Hasn’t the use of developmental screenings been encouraged for years?” - and you would be correct.  In 2006, the AAP made a strong stand advocating the use of developmental screening to identify infants and young children with developmental delays.  Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) benefits under state Medicaid programs also strongly support early identification.  So we have heard this before, but there are three new reasons that I am excited about the Watch Me Thrive! initiative. 

One, for the first time, there is an open source developmental screening tool available.  In prior years, you had to pay for a screening tool, but now the Survey of Well-being of Young Children (SWYC) provides an easy-to-read, 10-item screening tool that can be found online and printed for use at no charge.  The easy and free access to this tool will allow primary care providers who increasingly rely on the use of electronic medical records to more easily integrate developmental screening into their practices.  There is no more excuse not to screen because of the hassle of costs and paper.  In fact, already families have completed over 17,000 SWYC screenings using our electronic medical record across CHOP’s 31 primary care practices.  Also, the SWYC has already been thoughtfully translated into Spanish, Nepali and Burmese.  It is a great help having developmental screening tools in the primary language of some of the United States’ growing immigrant and refugee populations!

A second significant part of Watch Me Thrive! is it shows us that developmental screening and surveillance can have a frame that is positive.  Developmental screening is not just for children who are at risk, but for all children.  It opens the door for celebrating a child’s new skills and the important role of parents and caregivers.  Developmental screening also opens the door to talking about next steps, not just for the child who might have delays, but also for the child who is progressing as expected. 

And the third reason I’m excited about Watch Me Thrive! is it provides an opportunity at well child visits for pediatricians to discuss preschool and high quality early learning programs with parents.  Doesn’t it make sense to use the 30-month visit at a pediatrician’s office not just to rule out delays using a developmental screening tool, but also to suggest to a family that enrollment in preschool or high quality childcare is a good idea?  Children who attend high quality preschools start kindergarten ready.  Hearing this from a pediatrician may be a big encouragement for a family!